Sil­i­con Val­ley mostly quiet in in­ter­net sur­veil­lance de­bate

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Face­book Inc, Al­pha­bet Inc’s Google, Ap­ple Inc and other ma­jor tech­nol­ogy firms are largely ab­sent from a de­bate over the re­newal of a broad US in­ter­net sur­veil­lance law, weak­en­ing prospects for pri­vacy re­forms that would fur­ther pro­tect cus­tomer data, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

While tech com­pa­nies of­ten lobby Wash­ing­ton on pri­vacy is­sues, the ma­jor firms have been hes­i­tant to en­ter a fray over a con­tro­ver­sial por­tion of the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act (FISA), in­dus­try lob­by­ists, con­gres­sional aides and civil lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates said.

Among their con­cerns is that do­ing so could jeop­ar­dize a trans-At­lantic data trans­fer pact un­der­pin­ning bil­lions of dol­lars in trade in dig­i­tal ser­vices, the sources said. Tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and pri­vacy groups have for years com­plained about the part of FISA known as Sec­tion 702 that al­lows the U.S. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) to col­lect and an­a­lyze emails and other dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions of for­eign­ers liv­ing over­seas. Though tar­geted at for­eign­ers, the sur­veil­lance also col­lects data on an un­known num­ber of Amer­i­cans - some pri­vacy ad­vo­cates have sug­gested it could be mil­lions - with­out a search war­rant.

Sec­tion 702 will ex­pire at the end of the year un­less the Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled Congress votes to reau­tho­rize it. The White House, US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and many Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors want to re­new the law, which they con­sider vi­tal to na­tional se­cu­rity, with­out changes and make it per­ma­nent.

A coali­tion of Democrats and lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing con­ser­va­tives pre­fer, how­ever, to amend the law with more pri­vacy safe­guards. Re­form Gov­ern­ment Sur­veil­lance, a coali­tion of tech firms estab­lished af­ter the 2013 leaks by former NSA con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, said re­form­ing the law re­mains a pri­or­ity. A spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment fur­ther but re­ferred to two let­ters sent ear­lier this year bytech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies urg­ing Congress to con­sider changes to the law.

Snow­den ex­posed the spy agency’s pro­gram that col­lected US phone call meta­data in bulk and also the ex­tent of spy­ing un­der Sec­tion 702, em­bar­rass­ing some US tech­nol­ogy firms.

The com­pa­nies, work­ing with pri­vacy rights ac­tivists, suc­cess­fully lob­bied Congress two years ago to pass leg­is­la­tion that cur­tailed the NSA’s bulk col­lec­tion of call records. For ex­am­ple, Face­book chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg wrote on his Face­book page that he had per­son­ally called then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to ex­press “frus­tra­tion over the dam­age the gov­ern­ment is cre­at­ing for all of our fu­ture.”

Now, how­ever, Sil­i­con Val­ley’s re­duced in­volve­ment frus­trates civil lib­er­ties groups be­cause of a widely held view that Sec­tion 702 poses a far greater threat to pri­vacy than the tele­phone pro­gram, which did not har­vest ac­tual con­tent. Face­book de­clined com­ment. Google and Ap­ple did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Pri­vacy shield agree­ment

The com­pa­nies’ rel­a­tive in­ac­tiv­ity is ex­plained by sev­eral le­gal chal­lenges in Europe to an agree­ment be­tween the United States and the Euro­pean Union, known as the Pri­vacy Shield, the sources said. The lit­i­ga­tion hinges on whether US sur­veil­lance prac­tices af­ford enough pri­vacy safe­guards. A coali­tion of hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions has urged Europe to sus­pend Pri­vacy Shield un­less Sec­tion 702 is sub­stan­tially re­formed.

US tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies have pri­vately bris­tled at those ef­forts, three in­dus­try lob­by­ists said, in part be­cause ex­pec­ta­tions that 702 re­forms will pass Congress are low. “If you link them and you lose one, you lose both,” said one of the lob­by­ists, who like the others re­quested anonymity to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.

The lob­by­ist added that sev­eral ma­jor firms were more in­ter­ested in mak­ing deals with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that could af­fect their bot­tom lines, such as tax repa­tri­a­tion, than get­ting caught in po­lit­i­cally charged fights over gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance.

An­other in­dus­try lob­by­ist said Sec­tion 702 sur­veil­lance is “not a C-suite is­sue” that con­cerns chief ex­ec­u­tives in Sil­i­con Val­ley like other is­sues, in­clud­ing en­cryp­tion.

Com­pa­nies have also been lim­ited in how they can lobby for changes to the law be­cause no com­pre­hen­sive re­form bill has been in­tro­duced yet in Congress, said Alex Abdo, a pri­vacy ad­vo­cate and staff at­tor­ney at the Knight First Amend­ment In­sti­tute at Columbia Uni­ver­sity.

A bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is not ex­pected to in­tro­duce such leg­is­la­tion un­til af­ter Congress re­turns from its Au­gust re­cess.

The schism be­tween tech com­pa­nies and pri­vacy groups was on dis­play ear­lier this year in lit­i­ga­tion in Ire­land - Face­book ar­gued cus­tomer data was suf­fi­ciently pro­tected from US spy­ing pro­grams, while an at­tor­ney for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union tes­ti­fied that more pro­tec­tions were needed.

Snow­den’s leaks showed that Sec­tion 702 col­lects con­tent of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rectly from the in­ter­net back­bone and through a pro­gram for­merly code named Prism where the NSA gath­ered data di­rectly from sev­eral com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Face­book, Google, Ap­ple and Mi­crosoft Corp. —Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.